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Sunday 21 July 2019
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COP, MSJ: Deal with sexual harassment in state sector

Former Sport Minister Darryl Smith should not have been reassigned to the Ministry of Housing but relegated to the party’s back benches during Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle.

That’s the view of both Congress of the People (COP) leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) head David Abdulah, who also expressed concern about government’s tardiness in dealing with sexual harassment in the state sector.

Smith came under fire after allegations of sexual harassment from his personal secretary which led to a settlement in the Industrial Court of $150,000 by the Sport Ministry for wrongful dismissal. On Monday it was announced that Smith was being moved as sport and youth affairs minister to minister in the Housing Ministry.

However, that appointment was revoked as the Office of the Prime Minister announced he had been fired on the basis of “new information.” Seepersad-Bachan said his initial appointment to the Housing Ministry did not “instil confidence” in other women who may have been victims of sexual harassment at state enterprises and government ministries.

“These women are too afraid, they are fearful of coming forward for fear of victimisation, because they feel there will be no justice. And that is why in matters like this, we must deal with it seriously, because it’s a signal you want to send to the population, to all government departments, all government ministries, state enterprises, that we will not be treating with this issue lightly,” she said.

“What example are you setting? At the end of the day we have had so many state enterprises, we have had recent issues – the Angostura issue – there have been really no attempt to resolve those issues when it comes to sexual harassment. That is my problem: when we continue to condone that type of behaviour we are intimidating more women from being able to come forward when they are sexually harassed.”

Her comments were endorsed by Abdulah, who described the Cabinet reshuffle as “thoughtless” and lacking a “lack a clear sense of leadership by the Prime Minister.” Asked whether Smith should also resign as Diego Martin Central MP, Abdulah said this was unlikely as this country did not have a tradition of people resigning from public life because of allegations of misconduct.

“We don’t have a real tradition of persons stepping completely out of public life. People don’t resign. We don’t have that tradition in the country so we have those precedents being set,” he said.

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